The Coming of the Lord – Luke 3:1-6 - preached at The Baptist Church of Driftwood on December 6, 2015
Prayer – Father God, thank you for having me back among these people to fellowship and worship the Triune God. We pray, on the second Sunday of Advent, for peace to pass through our land, if not the earth, in the form of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Let us witness to the coming of the Lord, that changed our lives, and could change other people’s too, if they will just surrender and let Him in. We ask it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Intro - This is the second Sunday in Advent. The word 'Advent' is from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming.' Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year (in the Western churches), and is the span of time from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until Christmas Eve. Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
As we “prepare” for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, as we get ready to renew ourselves and our faith, to be better witnesses on this earth, to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” when we meet the Lord in Heaven, we look around this world and are shocked, appalled, and frankly taken aback to see the worldly or sinful nature of things.
Illustration - This week has been more of the same in terms of the attacks on our Western worldview with terror and the radical Muslims which are now – it seems - everywhere. You remember the attacks in Paris that were devastating and closed that country to outsiders. Now, back in the states, we have the couple that attacked the county disability center in San Bernardino, California.
This is a story that is unfolding as I speak, so forgive me if there are any errors. It starts like a fairy tale, then goes south in a hurry. Rizwan Farook, a U.S. Citizen, met Tashfeen Malik on a trip to the Middle East. They were both in their 20’s, fell in love, and came back to the states, with a marriage and a family presumably on their minds. They had a baby girl six months ago, and were a young, California couple with everything ahead of them.
Then, in a heated conversation by Farook and a Jewish American, Nicholas Thalasinos, at a holiday party at his work on whether Islam was violent or peaceful religion, things suddenly turned evil. Farook went home, got his arsenal and committed – with his wife – one of the most ghastly attacks in America (at least recently). 14 dead and 21 wounded, Mr. Thalasinos was among the fourteen dead.
What was found at their house after the attack is mindboggling. There were explosives, guns and ammunition mixed in with the baby toys. They had enough ordinance to conduct several attacks, including one of larger size and causing greater casualties, which thankfully they didn’t get to do. There are reports of them being tied to radical Islam groups. There are talks all around this country to do more vetting, more screening, more something to keep this country safe!
Transition to Scripture – So how is the situation in San Bernardino, California relevant to this 2nd Sunday of Advent? How does the Coming of the Lord and the sinful situation we find ourselves in this country – where violence is rampant, a closed in country philosophy, and Christmas seems in the past, but not in the present - relate? Is it that different from the time just before Christ, when the prophets had disappeared for over 500 years from the time of Malachi? Let’s look at the book of Luke, generally, and then Chapter 3, verses 1-6. It is about John the Baptist, the first prophet since Malachi, and his ministry – paving the way for the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Luke Generally – Luke wrote as a historian. He authored Luke and Acts, and pretty much all scholars are aligned with Luke as the author, even though the books themselves are anonymous on that fact (they say they are written to Theophilus). The date of the Gospel is about 60 – 70 A.D. One Theologian says that the central theme in Luke is that Jesus offers Salvation to all humankind (Marshall, in Luke: Historian and Theologian). Remember that as we look to John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. In Chapter 3 verse 1 Luke begins the second major section of his gospel: The Preparation of Jesus’ Ministry. John the Baptist and Jesus make up the two subsections.
The Lukan Message, according to some scholars, was that in the interplay between God and us, the human response called for by the offer of salvation is baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. My interpretation is the placing of faith and our surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; the baptism gives testimony to our relationship with the Triune God. We will see more of this in the Scripture for today, Luke 3:1-6.
In Luke, John the Baptist – which we will deal with shortly – was bridging the gap between Old Testament and New Testament, for he was the first prophet to Israel since Malachi (by the way, Jesus was also a prophet – and much more - according to Luke). Also, John’s message was the same as Jesus’: repentance for the forgiveness of sins!
John’s ministry was divinely appointed as a fulfillment of prophecy. Luke wanted Theophilus (the person to whom Luke wrote in the Gospel and Acts, probably his friend or acquaintance, possibly a high ranking official in the Roman government) to know (and us) that this all happened not just in a corner (Acts 26:26), but with divine purpose for history. Interestingly, Luke also introduced Jesus (Luke 4:18-20), Peter (Acts 2:17-21), and Paul (Acts 13:47) with OT prophecies!
But before I get into the scripture, is it really worth it today?
You know, we used to be a lot more “Christiany” in this country. Back in the 1950’s or 60’s things were okay, and now look at what the world’s gone to...
Illustration – Winter Holidays – coming up there is a big break for all those associated with schools. It used to be called the Christmas Break, back when I was in school (in the seventies and eighties). There was no question. We were a Christian country (or so we thought), and we celebrated Christmas every December 25, like clockwork, no pun intended. Now, we cannot call it Christmas Break. In New York, the New York Board of Education calls it “Winter Holiday.” Not that Texas is any different, Austin, too, calls it a “Winter Holiday.” Scholastic.com in their teachers section makes it a point to have three holidays that we are focusing on during the winter season – Kwanzaa, Hanukah, and Christmas (though not in that order, actually Christmas is first!). Even Dripping Springs calls their time off later this month as Winter Holiday! (Hays calls it a Holiday, and Wimberley has nothing on its calendar!) But it is Not Christmas! Should we not be perturbed about that? And what does Scripture have to say – except “No”! Well, let us see....
Scripture – Now, let’s turn to God’s word. I am reading from Luke 3:1-6 in the NIV.
Luke 3:1-6 New International Version (NIV)
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]
Luke 3:6 Isaiah 40:3-5
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. [Thanks be to God].
Exegesis – What is Luke saying to the people in the 1st century (probably God-fearers – Gentiles who generally accepted monotheism and Jewish ethics), and what is he saying to us?
3:1 - 2 – In Chapter 3, verse 1 we get a number of then earthly rulers. Why? In the days before we started dating events by the years B.C. and A. D. (before Christ and Anno Domini) (which was initiated in 533 CE by Dionysius Exiguus), events were dated (1) in relation to the rulers of the period or (2) the number of years since the founding of Rome. Luke follows the former method, fixing the date of John's call by six chronological vectors. The closest Scholars can come to an exact date is about 28 A.D. (or C.E.).
But also Luke uses the opening words of the Old Testament prophets: Isa 1:1, Jer 1:1-3, Hos 1:1, Amos 1:1. At this time in history (after a long silence), the prophetic word was again being heard.
Luke gives us a historical writer’s perspective, but he is also telling us that the Kingdom of God is coming into the human world! He describes human rulers, and priestly hierarchy that sets Jesus against them. Remember that later in the Gospel, it is Pilate, Herod, and the High Priest who interrogate Jesus...
3:3 – The desert or wilderness was a desolate area near the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Essenes lived here in the time of John. The Essenes were responsible for the Qumran development in the desert, and also responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in 1947. Some scholars have speculated that John may have lived with the Essenes for a period of time and that his practice of baptizing those who responded to his call for repentance was drawn from the Essene initiation ceremonies and repeated washings. Like the Essenes, John called Israelites to repentance in the wilderness and offered converts to a ceremony of water cleansing that either expressed their repentance or conveyed God's cleansing to the convert. The water ritual was not effective apart from genuine repentance.
“Repentance” here literally means a change of mind but refers more broadly to the human dimension involved in the experience of conversion rather than the divine element (regeneration).
“The forgiveness of sins” is a present realization of the future final forgiveness at the final judgment. This is a central theme to Luke-Acts and is necessary to the Gospel message. It is seen as intimately associated with repentance.
The baptism, then was a baptism of repentance. Its chief characteristic was an expression of sorrow for sin, and commitment to moral change on the part of those whom he baptized.
3:4 – In verse 4 we see the beginning of a quote from Isaiah. Isaiah 40:3 was used by the Qumran community – they led a separate life, preparing the way of the Lord by a constant reading of the law. Here, a new way was coming – that of the Lord. For John, he saw that what needed removing to prepare the way was the sin of the people. For Luke, the Isaiah passage (like for Mark and Matthew was a clear prophecy of the ministry of John the Baptist.
3:5 – The tweaked version of Isaiah, differing slightly from the actual Scripture, probably means “repentance” was on John’s mind as he spoke to them. As we look back on it, it also shouts to me of a new world. One where the landscape is totally changed. For every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain shall be made low, the crooked roads shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth – there is a new way of looking at things that is to come. Reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount given in Matthew. Everything that Jesus said is turned on its head from a worldly standpoint – For example: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?
3:6 – in verse 6 we see the endpoint. And all mankind will see God’s salvation. This Lukan theme – Luke’s evangelistic and theologic conviction is brought out in the Isaiah passage.
So we have as the theme of this Scripture: (1) the coming of the Lord (told by a prophet); (2) repentance of sins for the people, and forgiveness from God; and (3) Jesus turning the world as they knew it upside down. John pointed people to Jesus. In essence, he prepared to way for the Lord!
But is that relevant to us in the 21st Century? Does the Scripture have something to say to us? Here? Now?
Maybe we, as Christian people, need to look at the world with a new viewpoint. Actually, it’s an old viewpoint that goes back at least 2,000 years to the Bible. Let’s look at it the way John did, preparing the way for the Lord who would turn the world on its shoulders. Let’s look at the world like Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 9:37 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers into His harvest field.”
Illustration – Christmas Nativity in New York – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgvLeiiLL-4)
There is a guy in New York that builds golf courses. He is pretty good at it, from the looks of it. His name is Ron Cutlip and he is a golf course architect. He has been featured on CNN, US Golf Assoc. Journal, and Sports Illustrated. But that is not why I’m mentioning him to you. It is his other ‘’hobby” that I want to tell you about. You see, every Christmas, he brings a live nativity scene to New York City. Four the past four years, he has applied to Times Square and has been denied. That doesn’t matter to Ron. He displays it in a park, and brings joy to the cold, shivering, often callous people of New York. He goes down the streets of Faith Avenue, walking the sheep (literally, walking with two sheep in his arms!) up to his nativity location. He says that people gawk, and then smile, and then their faces turn to Joy as they sing Christmas Carols with Ron and his friends. But that is not all! This year he got accepted to Times Square! There will be a Christmas live nativity scene, with Christmas Carols in Times Square, in New York City, New York.
Invitation – Maybe we do need Christ to come and turn our world upside down – like Ron in New York. Maybe the story of John the Baptist is, like a commentary says, the story of us and the church. Maybe we should open up our hearts and our lives, to see the harvest and asks the Lord of the harvest to send us as workers into the field.
Maybe the couple in California is telling us to walk like Jesus (as much as we can) and speak Jesus’ words to people in this broken, sinful world. Maybe we should come alongside the baby of Razook and Malik and speak the words of Jesus to her, that she might see God as He truly is?
As you go out into the world this Advent, are you John the Baptist? Are you walking and preaching the way of Jesus Christ to the lost and sinful world – knowing that you’re a sinner, too, and have the grace of God to thank for your salvation? The world needs it, and the people of this world really need it!
I think Luke had it right when he said through Isaiah – that all humankind will see God’s salvation. There is hope in that – and joy! Make it so this Christmas, as we celebrate the grace of God that lived among us – and now lives in our hearts – Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Father God, it is so easy to get sidetracked, or get to thinking that we are all alone in this world. But we have the body of Christ down here (believers in the church) and we have you in our hearts. You are with us, guide us, protect us. Let us think that as we await the coming of the incarnation celebration this Christmas. Let us think that we are, like John the Baptist, preparing others for the coming of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, into their lives and hearts. I pray this all in the name of Jesus. Amen.